We think it’s fair to say that 2016 was, for various reasons, a memorable year. Of course, we are a music site and as such couldn’t possibly comment on Brexit, Trump, Putin, Syria, or any of that, and so we won’t. Instead we bring you a few of our favourite things, beginning with…
Single of the year – ‘Wow’ by Beck
There were other contenders amongst the various new releases we’ve brought you this year, but it was this wonderful slice of wierdness from the ever-brilliant Beck that topped the pile this year. he’s been around for a long time now, and whilst he can create music as fresh and fun-sounding as this he continues prove himself as one of the most talented musicians and songwriters of the last few decades.
It comes of the back of a good period of creativity, which saw him bag a Grammy for 2014’s Morning Phase lp, and this track and ‘Dreams’ which was also released this year are rumoured to be part of a new album currently in the making. It will be his thirteenth. And yet for all of his longevity and success he still seems like something of an outsider, the odd-kid from down the street, the geek sitting just outside the mainstream. And that’s the appeal; he’s the biggest underground artist in the world. Long may it continue.
Album of the year – Blackstar by David Bowie
Released on January 8th – also Bowie’s 69th birthday – to near unanimous acclaim from fans and critics alike, Blackstar briefly a sense of a man about to bloom in to a wonderful late-period of creativity. When it was subsequently anounced, just three days later, that he had died of cancer it became crystal clear that this was in fact his swan-song.
It was supremely fitting then that not only was it his best album in years but also quite simply one of the best of his singular career. At times in the last couple of decades he released albums that were sometimes patchy in quality of songs whilst also straining a little too hard for a contemporary sound. Here though, Bowie delivered a dark, complex record in a musical language entirely of his own. It’s a compelling listen, and a fitting end to a staggering career, and unique life.
TV Series of the year – Stranger Things
Netflix continued to establish itself as a major player in the television industry this year with a number of excellent original series. We particularly enjoyed Narcos and The Get Down, but easily our favourite was this paranormal 80’s-esque thriller starring a rejuvenated Winona Ryder and the best cast of children since movies like The Lost Boys or Goonies.
The show centres around the dissapearance of 12-year old Will Byers, who ends up in a dark and shadowy parallel dimension, and the efforts to save him launched by his mother (Ryder), the local Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), and his best friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas who are aided by a shaven-headed girl with psychokinetic powers, whom they discover after she escapes from Hawkins Laboratories, where a team of scientists headed by Dr Martin Brenner (a deliciously evil Matthew Modine) have been experimenting on her.
We’ll give no spoilers away to those who have yet to watch it, but we do implore you to watch it! Smart, suspenseful, and with a wonderful cast performance, Stranger Things is a sign that Netflix have not only come of age but are now leading the way in producing high-quality shows. Series 2 is due in 2017 and we can’t wait…
Film of the year – Eight days A Week
Yes, the film buffs amongst you will probably point to various releases from the past 12 months that deserve this honour more than this, but we don’t care. As HUGE Beatles fans, and residents of Liverpool, Ron Howard’s documentary about the Fab Four’s touring years was a triumph, and a must-see for any serious music lover.
And for the price of admission we got plenty too. It began with a short message from paul, Ringo, and Ron recorded especially for the Liverpool audience was followed by a documentary, and then the main feature, followed by 30 glorious fully-restored minutes of their famous Shea Stadium gig. As for the main feature, it features plenty more restored footage, from both on and off stage, shot through with brand new interviews featuring Paul and Ringo, of course, and an illustrious cast of many others who happened to be there at the time, including Whoopi Goldberg recounting how her mother surprised her Beatles-loving daughter with concert tickets, but also casting light on how they were never a ‘white’ group but rather, such was there appeal, a band that crashed any boundaries of race. Indeed, the film also explores how the group refused to play segregated audiences, which were still very much a thing in certain US states in the early 1960’s.
What really comes across though, more than anything, is just how good a live band The Beatles were underneath all the screaming. The restored footage has used modern techniques to strip away much of the teenage white-noise that overwhelmingly permeated their shows and revealed a lean, well-oiled group of musicians who made a fabulous racket together. The heady excitement of those Beatlemania years comes across fully, and this is a documentary that suceeds in really taking you back to that time. And if you’re a Beatles fan, or a fan of the 60’s, or a fan of rock and roll, and you haven’t yet seen this stick it on your ‘must see’ list for 2017.
The Year of the R.I.P.
One thing that 2016 will be unfondly remembered for is the passing of so many legendary figures. We feel blessed that their lives graced ours with their supreme talents.
Rest In Peace to David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Lemmy (who was last year really, but it was at the very end of last year so hush…), Bernie Worrell, Pete Burns, Glenn Frey, Garry Shandling, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Guy Clark, Paul Kantner, Rick Parfitt, Sir George Martin, Rod Temperton, Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Frank Sinatra jr., Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Billy Paul, Jimmy Bain, Mack Rice, Henry McCullough, Ralph Stanley, Scotty Moore, Bobby Vee, Kay Starr, Lonnie Mack, Leon Russell, Bert Kwouk, Kenny Baker and Viola Beach. And that’s not even an exhaustive list of notable deaths this year, just the ones we felt like mentioning because they meant something in some way to us. It’s been a drag, that’s for sure.